More than half of physicians and up to 40% of students, interns and residents experience burnout, which affects their workplace motivation, empathy levels, and general health.
Depression among physicians is also on the rise, with over 300 physicians taking their lives each year, reports a new National Academy of Medicine perspective piece on addressing physician burnout and depression. AOA leadership partnered with education experts and several DOs and medical students to publish the piece.
Systemic changes urged
The paper also urges changes to health care at a systemic level, including altering required osteopathic medical curricula and encouraging licensing boards to promote physician wellness and consider the pros and cons of physicians reporting their mental health concerns to them.
The Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) would need a recommendation from the AOA to incorporate wellness training into the osteopathic medical school curriculum, the authors note.
Having conversations with the Federation of State Medical Boards about their role in addressing physician wellness is another way the authors say the AOA can help address the crisis in physician wellness.
While licensing boards have patient safety in mind when determining if a physician is in good standing to practice medicine, some physicians avoid seeking help for mental health issues because they’re worried that doing so will negatively impact their license and ability to practice medicine, the authors note.
Other recommendations from the authors include the following:
- Medical schools should provide programming and counseling that allow students to privately and confidentially discuss mental health concerns.
- Training programs, physician employers, and physician organizations should provide physician wellness toolkits, resources, and programming for incoming residents and practicing physicians.
- The AOA and other medical associations should provide CME and non-CME initiatives that address mindfulness and life-work balance.
“As past president of the AOA, I feel it is essential for the association to recognize critical mental health issues among our membership that affect their current and future practice and the health and welfare of their patients,” says John Becher, DO, one of the article’s authors. “The AOA must respond by raising the awareness of this issue as well as providing programs for our students, residents, and practicing osteopathic physicians.”
Recognizing that the proposed recommendations can take time, Robert Piccininni, DO, a psychiatrist who also contributed to the article, says the best thing physicians can do right now to help a struggling physician is to talk to them about it.
“Often a depressed person desires to share their mental pain,” says Dr. Piccinini. “We sometimes don’t reach out to those who we know are hurting because we do not feel we know what to say. Most of the time, the person who’s hurting just needs someone to listen.”